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The Lady of the Woods

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I write this under order of my doctor. His prescription for my misfortune in bringing about what he has described as a considerable "skewing of the nerves" is to detail the events leading to this point in the hope that some remedy may present itself...if only he knew of the tragedy I labour beneath. Regardless, I should no doubt introduce myself to demonstrate the utmost spirit of good will to my kindly, if somewhat ill-understanding, physician.

I was a typical Englishman of good breeding; my family was fairly respected (my father holding some shares in far-off India), and I had attended respectable schools within the British Isles and, during a year-long exchange program, across the Atlantic at Miskatonic in Arkham, MA.

Of course, despite my respectable background, curiosity is indeed a natural thing, and like most other students I was able to gain a glimpse at some of their more eldrytch grimoires and manuscripts whose dark teachings are retained in even the most upright of fellows. Indeed, it is my half-remembered perusal of some of these texts that has allowed me to shed some light on the veil I most assuredly unwittingly pierced.

The year was 1923, and I had just turned 22. As is common among youths of my background, I had decided to seek out adventure, and to that end raised such funds as sufficient to allow me safe passage to the Continent. By June of that year, I had entered Calais, and soon had engaged myself in the shenanigans and fooleries that the aged are often denied.

Within a month, my thirst for greater sights forced me to journey beyond the charms and pleasantries that France and her sisters afford, and I decided to enter the harsher countries of Germany and her lesser Slavic states.

I arrived in Bergschlucht, a small hamlet within the state of Baden-Württemberg not too far from the Black Forest. Pleasant enough, the hamlet still stands today, if somewhat deserted and damaged, despite the war that raged so recently across the globe. No doubt one may, if they were so inclined, visit that charming little place and find the Mund der Esels Inn where I stayed and was entertained by the kindly family that ran the establishment. It is highly likely too that such an individual would find no trace of the tragedy that befell me on the night of July 17th 1923, and which despite my efforts continues to plague my thoughts.

On that night, I found myself affected by the haze of tobacco and alcohol that so often permeated the Inn, and so excused myself from my hosts' fine company for a brisk constitutional that would, I assured them, allow me to return as the lively chap they had come to regard as a family friend. It is in this fogged state that I set off, assured that this brief walk would rid me of my troubles.

To say I was distracted by my attempts to remove these feelings is evident in how I found myself suddenly within one of the small wooded areas that surround Bergschlucht; indeed, it proved so surprising to me that I fancied that perhaps these trunks had grown around me whilst I walked, or else I had unwittingly stepped into some portal to a fairie realm. I shudder now to remember these thoughts, especially when placed in conjunction with the later occurrence and with my readigs of those abhorred scripts which hinted at the existence of such worlds and the manners to which they may be entered. As it is, I had decided to turn back the way I believed I had come when it happened.

In amongst the trees, I first gazed upon she that would haunt my life as a pale shadow for years to come. What first I took to be a beam of moonlight casting its gaze upon the forest floor quickly took shape into that most lovely and feminine form which I would grow to both desire and revile shortly.

Her skin was of a shade of white not often seen amongst the living. It appeared as if her body radiated light, but no shine was cast upon the surrounding trunks or undergrowth; and yet she stood there, illuminated as if she were coated in some luminescent paint, or else clad in garments made of glowing moulds of a type often found in the deepest of caves, where unknown and fantastical beasts beyond the brink of sanity gnaw and dig beneath man's unsuspecting tread.

What little she wore appeared plain and a dirty grey, as if these rags that were  draped along her nubile frame had been caught in some recent downpour and were still drying even now. Yet these untidy rags did not disgrace her undeniable attractiveness, but rather framed it as the artist might place a masterpiece beneath salvaged scraps of wood.

Her face was little else than flawless and unparalleled. A mouth of exquisite delicacy, a rosebud sat within a snowy field. Fine, high cheekbones; a nose of the finest bone china; slim, beautifully arched eyebrows and, surrounded by all of this sumptuous elegance; large, glittering, emerald green eyes within whose depths seemed to lurk a warmth and desire unknown among our kind.

She stretched her hand toward me, as if she might take mine in her gentle grip, and as she did I was struck by the strangeness of it all. A soft breeze which blew through leaves was ever-present around us, and yet not a strand of the silvery-blonde hair upon her head nor a rag of the cloth which lay upon her lithe form stirred. I grew tempted to run, but her lips broke into a tender smile and all thoughts of flight fled from my mind.

I looked to my left and right, hoping to determine where such a delightful figure originated, and as I returned my gaze upon her I grew startled. She had advanced, as silent as the house-cat stalking its prey, to but a short distance from me. How a person could advance from 40 to 10 yards in a mere second without so much as a rustle of leaves was beyond me.

I noticed as well that something undeniable had taken place upon her. Where before I found her desirable and wished to explore every inch of her body, now I found it repulsive and sought to keep it as far from me as possible. Her eyes, before a reservoir filled with the milk of human comfort and love, now seemed utterly alien and divorced from all human cognition or emotion. And where mere moments before the air seemed still and peaceful, now a feeling of mystery ancient and far beyond mortal ken or petty morality permeated every breath. Despite no physical change to this woman, sheer terror had replaced my previous lust. I was frightened of her, more so than any man or imagined terror I had faced.

I promptly began a hasty retreat from this smiling siren with arm still outstretched. I heard no footsteps behind me and saw no sign of pursuit, yet some primal part within assured me that she followed. This chase is mostly a blur borne of terror and knowledge that I had unwittingly gazed upon some horror that should not be known. It soon stopped rather abruptly, however, with a fallen branch, no doubt relic of some earlier lightning stroke (despite fine weather those past few weeks), which tripped me and propelled me into a nearby clearing.

My conscious senses returned at this stumble, and I took a moment to bear my surroundings before attempting to stand. I sat up, blinked, and felt the chill of death upon my cheek. My erstwhile object of affection had returned, and kneeled before me, still smiling, cupping my face in her hand. She leaned forward, and placed a delicate kiss upon my lips...

At this point, I awoke within my room at the inn. After realising that I was indeed alone, and that it was indeed sunlight streaming through my window and that I was whole and alive, I admit that I nearly wept with joy. So vivid and foul a nightmare demands no less. It perplexed me though that, unlike most night terrors, this one proved equally horrible by daylight as well as by gaslight (for this inn surely needed modernising), but no doubt its power would pass in time. Nevertheless, something seemed amiss.

I found my answer in the mirror. I had evidently gone to bed in my evening wear, a not uncommon occurrence. My left cheek seemed seared a shade of red, as if a glove filled with ice had rested upon it, but that too could be dismissed as some psychosomatic expression of my nightmare. What could not, however, were the evident mud stains caking my clothing, as if I had fallen and rolled onto my back. Even the elbows of my jacket were coated, as if I had propped myself up on the muddy ground.

It is here that I was struck by a pang of immense loss, as if I had lost a lover; a very real lance of pain stabbed my heart and caused me to fall to the bed, clutching at my chest.

Another lance struck my brain, and I gritted my teeth as amid the liquid waves of molten agony, fuzzy, indistinct memories surfaced. Vague images of some gathering of beings like her smiling as she led me among their ranks. The feel of ice-cold hands caressing and scratching my body. The heaviness of others, cold as cadavers, pressing against me, probing as I probed. A half-remembered thought of 'Why do they not breathe', before I was overwhelmed by foul and unnatural acts which filled me with unholy pleasures and pious hatreds. Before I could remember more, I fainted.

25 years on from that day, I still have no clue as to what happened that night. These half-forgotten memories still lurk barely beneath the surface, bobbing like troublesome corks. I still receive those aching heart pangs, although the headaches have never returned. And I still feel that horrible mourning, that sadness for lost love and, more, a lost innocence. I can only hope that I never remember what else I have lost, or recall the events of that night, for I should undoubtedly turn completely insane and kill myself. Such a choice may be taken from me however, for in recent days I have caught glimpses of her as I have lived my life; a half-fleeted glance in the mirror, or a near indiscriminate sighting in the crowds. Perhaps she waits for me to remember her and what foul deeds we performed before she carries me back to her world and her people. Perhaps she is indeed a hallucination, and the doctors are too late.

We shall see.

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